British sailor accomplishes the ‘last first’

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32-year-old becomes the first woman to solo circumnavigate non-stop against prevailing winds

32-year-old becomes the first woman to solo circumnavigate non-stop against prevailing winds

A former British physical education teacher has become the first woman to sail non-stop and single-handed around the world against the prevailing winds and currents.

Denise “Dee” Caffari, 32, began her approximately 29,000-mile trip Nov. 20 from her homeport in Portsmouth, England. On May 5 she crossed her outbound track of northwestern Africa, officially completing a circumnavigation. She was expected to cross the Ushant-Lizard “finish line” of her voyage sometime between May 17 and 20.

“On departure, my mentor Sir Chay Blyth gave me a bottle of champagne for this day, but it wasn’t until now that I realized how big a milestone it is,” Caffari wrote in her online diary after the crossing.

“My main aim is to achieve that last ‘first,’ which is still out there for the female yachtswoman,” Caffari wrote on the expedition’s Web site, www.avivachallenge.com , before setting off aboard her Challenge 72-foot Class yacht, Aviva.

“For me this is the most outstanding passage ever made by one woman alone,” Blyth says of the circumnavigation (Caffari must cross the Ushant-Lizard finish line to earn official recognition). Only four men have completed a non-stop solo westabout circumnavigation. Blyth was the first, in 1971, taking 292 days.

“Sailing against the winds is more like climbing a mountain,” Caffari says. “It’s an arduous, punishing and exhausting fight against the oncoming elements.”

Caffari passed her official start line, off Ushant, France, Nov. 21 and sailed southwest across the Atlantic, round Cape Horn and continued west until turning north past Cape Town, South Africa. The route kept her far offshore and on May 7, having passed too far west of the Canaries to see them, Caffari wrote, “I still have not seen any sign of land since the islands of the South Island of New Zealand back in February. It will be strange when I do finally see sight of land again.”

Caffari’s shore team is made up of her personal coach (and boyfriend) Harry Spedding, weather router Mike Broughton and project director Andrew Roberts. The second project manager is Blyth.

Caffari began sailing with her father as a child and eventually became a dinghy instructor at a university. She later became a physical education teacher but abandoned that career to pursue her passion for sailing instead. Caffari first got the idea to make this passage after meeting Blyth during the Global Challenge 2004 around-the-world yacht race. Caffari was Aviva’s skipper along with a crew of 18. By the time the team reached Boston, the seed of the idea had taken root, she says. She decided to make the attempt and later had Aviva modified so she could handle the boat single-handed.

In 1995 fellow British sailor Samantha Brewster, aboard Heath Insured II, attempted to make the same passage but was forced to stop in Brazil for repairs. Spedding says he’s excited that Caffari is attempting to set the record. “Not only is this an amazing achievement,” he says, “but it could also be the start of more amazing things to come.”

Staff writer Jason Fell contributed to this story.